Guapo - photo by Ashley Jones


The Lexington, Islington, London
3rd September, 2015

[Photo by Ashley Jones, a still from his film of the event, which is used with many thanks.]

Conveniently located a mere ten minutes walk from Euston, The Lexington is a pub not far from the borders of Hipster Central, or Shoreditch as it may be better known. The eye-watering cost of an orange juice in the main bar was proof of a life lived in another orbit by those irksome trend slaves. Thankfully, once up two floors to the music room, the prices came down to more affordable levels, and the beards were of the working rather than fashion variety.

Support was provided by an alternative techno-ambient duo by the name of Hirvikolari. These two were an effects-laden trumpet player and a man manipulating synth patches contained within a small flight-case box featuring many protruding leads and jacks, and looking not unlike the innards of something John Logie Baird might have knocked up one afternoon in his shed. The duo played a continuous half hour long piece that shook the walls with loud beats and near-subsonic bass, topped off with synth squiggles and washes, and interjections from the trumpet via sundry manipulations. The impression was of a kidnapped Miles Davis jamming under duress on the fourth planet out from Alpha Centauri. I had quite got into it by the end!

After a short recovery period that allowed one’s innards to resettle following Hirvikolari’s low frequency rearranging, Guapo saunter on to the stage. This is a band that have evolved, nay, progressed (yikes!) from humble noisenik beginnings some twenty or so years ago to the planet bestriding quartet now stood before us that will soon dispense a colossus of sound upon us willing supplicants.

This gig was billed as an album launch for the highly impressive waxing Obscure Knowledge, here played as one continuous piece as nature intended. The intro to Part I sees Emmett Elvin’s atonal on/off chords become angry fists demanding the doors of perception be opened, NOW! Having forced its way in Guapo start from the top of Olympus Mons as a tiny speck of matter that begins to slowly roll down the endless slope, across plains of desolation and on, down and down, gathering mass and gathering mass and gathering mass, to end as an ENORMOUS thing of crushing weight.

The music inspires these flights of semi-literate fancy, I make no apologies! I have already reviewed Obscure Knowledge so I won’t repeat myself, suffice to say that the shamanic and hypnotic nature of the music is magnified many times in a live setting, aided by thunderous volume and a great mix that avoided the thing ever descending into distorted cacophony. There was one point at the end of Part 1 where I am fully convinced levitation was achieved. I cannot recall a gig as visceral since King Crimson’s appearance at Shepherd’s Bush Empire back in the millennial year. Mention must be made here of Emmett’s controlled discipline to play the same chord sequence over and over, forming the altar at the centre of the temple that was Part I, the necessary concentration etched on his furrowed brow as he stared maniacally into the middle distance. It can’t be easy keeping up that intensity for so long.

The ever restless Kavus Torabi is the anti-guitar hero clad in his Las Vegas shirt, throwing shapes with his Gretsch (?) guitar, an instrument with the most gorgeously decorated scratchplate I have seen. His riffs and melodic sequences are what steers the band, but underpinning everything is the mammoth rhythm section. Band founder and now only remaining original member David J. Smith does not need to play drum solos, as everything he does is one continuous solo in a non-trad sense, for this man is a veritable bearded powerhouse. With a drummer like that, his rhythm compadre has to have an inherent strength just to keep up, and similarly whiskered new boy Sam Warren does not lack in that or any other department. A name familiar to me from the rather good rabble rousers Thumpermonkey, his dextrous playing adds much, much more than just time keeping to the ensemble playing.

Joining the band briefly in Part 1 to bang a gong was Michael J. York, who came into his own in Part II. It transpires that what I described as the sound of a “diseased harmonium” in my album review was actually a collection of exotic pipes and bagpipes (see the ‘Musicians’ line-up below) fed through effects pedals. This unsettling sequence of anti-ambience reflects the dangerous part of the trip where the participant could either sink into nightmarish depths or rise and fly out of confines of Earth-bound consciousness.

Obscure Knowledge reaches critical mass with the considered and psyche-shifting building climax of Part III, the collective perception now open to anything, anything at all. The instruments interlock from the low key beginning, propelled as ever by David’s rumbling drums. Bass and keys in tandem, Kavus adding spidery guitar runs, the train gains momentum before the return of Kavus’ riff from Part I takes the thing over the bridge, away into the welcoming arms of sonic chaos, the guitarist’s screaming visage imprinted on our collective retina, and then the piece dies with a final sigh of expiration. F**kin’ marvellous!

“You want another one, then?” asks Kavus rhetorically once the dust and rowdy reception has settled, and the band launch into a great rendering of Tremors From The Future from the previous album, the equally groovy History Of The Visitation. Here, the band are joined by two violinists and Mr York returns too, making this a full-on almost symphonic helping of angular and thrilling avant-rock. A great way to end.

This is highly emotive music, but not in the lachrymose sense, no, for this reaches into your very core and gives it a thorough rinsing, absolutely marvellous stuff. This gig is a contender for my gig of the year, a year in which it has some very strong competition both in the past and yet to come. King Crimson will have to go some to beat this!

Obscure Knowledge – Parts I, II, III
Tremors From The Future

David J Smith – Drums
Sam Warren – Bass Guitar
Kavus Torabi – Guitar
Emmett Elvin – Keyboards
~ with:
Michael J York – Duduk, Flemish Bagpipes, Breton Pipes, Flutes, possibly some other exotic reeds or woodwind I can’t recall, oh…and a Gong
Sarah Anderson & Geri McEwan – Violins on Tremors From The Future

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